Thursday, August 13, 2009

2009 Opponent Position Preview: Wide Receivers | by Kevin

Kevin here chipping in as we move from quarterbacks to running backs to wide receivers...

A quick note: in these previews, the third receiver will usually have no "Returning/New Starter" designation, because, depending on the offense and formation, the third receiver still may not be fairly considered a "starter."

Also, we forgot to mention this in previous articles, but the number in parenthesis after a player's name, if there is one, is where he's ranked in Phil Steele's position preview. The total number of players ranked by Steele for each position varies so some will have more than others. For receivers he ranked 72 of them.


Chris Wellington (#68).
Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 Stats: 42 receptions, 632 yards, 6 TDs.
Tray Session. Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 Stats: 1 reception, 6 yards, 0 TDs.
Brandon Wimberly. RS Freshman.
2008 Stats: N/A

Though Nevada analyses normally start with their unique Pistol formation and the Wolfpack's prolific running attack, the passing game hasn't been bad, either. Now-departed receiver Marko Mitchell was second in the WAC with 1,117 receiving yards last year. This season, Nevada must replace both Mitchell and last year's #3 receiver, Mike McCoy. Chris Wellington, a junior, will step into the #1 role. Wellington had seven touchdown catches last season, and six games with 60 or more yards receiving (including three consecutive games in November), but this unit is not particularly deep. The only other returning receiver with past statistics worth noting is Arthur King, who posted 292 yards last season. Speedy Juco transfer Maurice Patterson may line up in the slot; Junior split end Malcolm Shepherd and redshirt freshman Brandon Wimberly round out the Wolfpack receiving corp. While Nevada still has some weapons, the losses of Mitchell and McCoy leave the team less experienced and likely not as dangerous as it was last year.


Greg Mathews (#18).
Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 Stats: 35 receptions, 409 yards, 2 TDs.
Martavious Odoms. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 Stats: 49 receptions, 443 yards, 0 TDs.
Darryl Stonum. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 Stats: 14 receptions, 176 yards, 1 TD.

Michigan's offensive struggles last year took a toll on their speedy young receivers, but most of them return for a second season under Rich Rodriguez. Pahokee, FL native Odoms, a quick player able to create yards after the catch, appeared at times to be a good fit in the spread option passing attack. Veteran Greg Mathews saw a slight dip in his production last year, but the big target (6'3", 210 pounds) should continue to pose a threat in the red zone. Junior Hemingway will likely back up Mathews at split end; Senior LaTerryal Savoy and freshman Roy Roundtree may also compete for action. The statistic that jumped out at me when reviewing these receivers was the dearth of touchdown catches. Mathews led all receivers with two touchdown grabs (running back Brandon Minor also had two). Additionally, only Mathews and Odoms surpassed the modest 400-yard receiving bar. One relevant quality not seen in the statistics: blocking ability. Receivers in the spread option must be able to block, or the attack will have trouble gaining the critical vertical yards that follow horizontal passes, pitches, and rushes. Michigan will likely need more balance and more passing game production to improve this season; although they will introduce another new quarterback (or two), the return of their top three receivers back should help the Wolverine air attack.


Blair White. Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 43 receptions, 659 yards, 1 TD.
Mark Dell. (#19) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 36 receptions, 679 yards, 3 TDs.
B.J. Cunningham. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 41 receptions, 528 yards, 0 TDs.

Michigan State will field one of the more experienced receiving groups Notre Dame will face this season. Virtually every receiver (save Deon Curry, who had five receptions last year) is back, including Second Team All-Big Ten receiver Blair White and junior Mark Dell, who caught four passes for 80 yards against the Irish in 2008. Though the loss of Javon Ringer could produce a running back-by-committee approach, new starters Kirk Cousins or Keith Nichol may at least feel comfortable relying on their veteran receivers. This is not a team that has thrown for many touchdowns; Brian Hoyer threw nine touchdown passes in all of 2008, just four more than Jimmy Clausen completed in the Hawaii Bowl. However, this big, experienced group may be called upon to shoulder more of the offensive attack than in Mark Dantonio's first two seasons in East Lansing. Sophomores B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin will provide even more depth behind the veteran starters.


Keith Smith.
Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 49 receptions, 486 yards, 2 TDs
Aaron Valentin. Senior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 11 receptions, 224 yards, 2 TDs.
Royce Adams. Senior. New Starter.
2008 stats: converted cornerback

Purdue could be in for a rough season -- not only is top passer Curtis Painter gone, but so, too, are leading receivers Desmond Tardy (876 yards, five touchdowns) and Greg Orton (720 yards, 5 TDs). Junior Keith Smith is back; both he and tight end Kyle Adams must be reliable targets for new starting quarterback Joey Elliott if the Boilermaker passing game is to get off the ground. Purdue may also try to throw to running back Jaycen Taylor, although Taylor is a different type of player than was all-purpose back Kory Sheets (12 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown last season). One or both of converted cornerback Royce Adams or Aaron Valentin will need to step into the void left by Orton and Tardy if the Boilers are to continue the passing success of the past decade. JUCO transfer Keith Carlos is also a potential instant contributor. Of course, that assumes new coach Danny Hope intends to continue playing basketball on grass. Reports from West Lafayette indicate Hope may seek to implement a more "balanced" offense, with greater emphasis on the running game.


D'Andre Goodwin. Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 60 receptions, 692 yards, 1 TD.
Jermaine Kearse. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 20 receptions, 301 yards, 2 TDs.
Devin Aguilar. Sophomore.
2008 stats: 20 receptions, 246 yards, 0 TDs.

Washington threw six touchdown passes last season. Not six in October, or six against Washington State. Six touchdown passes in the year 2008. If the top two guys weren't coming back, and junior D'Andre Goodwin weren't so promising, I would give Steve Sarkisian little chance to squeeze blood out of this rock. But Goodwin and sophomore Jermaine Kearse are back, and the Huskies lose very little from last season's receiving corp. Notre Dame fans know what "depth" teams generally have five years after hiring Tyrone Willingham; while that problem will plague Washington's offensive line, the receivers actually have a few serviceable backups for Goodwin and Kearse. Devin Aguilar started three games as a true freshman last year and hauled in 20 catches for 246 yards. Depth: Sophomore Cody Bruns, redshirt freshmen Anthony Boyles and Vince Taylor, sophomore Jordan Polk, and true freshman James Johnson provide reinforcement for the Huskies. While this group could double its 2008 output and still remain within the bounds of modesty, such improvement is possible with a veteran group and the return of quarterback Jake Locker.


Damian Williams. (#12) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 58 receptions, 869 yards, 9 TDs.
Ronald Johnson. (#48) Junior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 33 receptions, 570 yards, 8 TDs.
David Ausberry. (#31) RS Junior.
2008 stats: 6 receptions, 85 yards, 1 TD.

While most pre-season headlines have reasonably focused on the battle among Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley, and Mitch Mustain to replace Mark Sanchez as the Trojan quarterback, the identity of S. California's number 2 and 3 receivers could also play a critical role in the team's offensive success. After spring practice, Williams and Johnson appeared to have locked down the flanker and split end spots, respectively. Junior Travon Patterson may be next in line behind Williams, though he will compete with redshirt freshman Brice Butler. Behind Muskegon, Michigan native Ronald Johnson are Ausberry, sophomore Brandon Carswell, and junior Jordan Cameron. Southern Cal faces considerable uncertainty heading into this season. The quarterback who takes the first snap against San Jose State (likely Corp) may not be the same guy who takes the field in South Bend on October 17th. Though Williams' starting position seems safe as long as he's healthy, the Trojan receiving jobs should also be fluid. South. Ca. never lacks for talent, but Notre Dame may have bridged the gap at this glamour position.


Rich Gunnell. Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 49 receptions, 551 yards, 4 TDs.
Justin Jarvis. Senior, Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 25 receptions, 274 yards, 3 TDs.

While the most-encouraging BC development for Irish fans was the departures of BJ Raji and Ron Brace, the loss of Brandon Robinson should also impact the Eagles this season. Robinson had 646 receiving yards and five touchdowns as Boston College's #1 receiver last year. Rich Gunnell and Justin Jarvis, last season's #2 and #3 receivers, are back, as is Junior Ifeanyi Momah (11 catches, 149 yards, and 3 TDs) and Clarence Megwa, who had nine catches for 66 yards in 2008. Junior Billy Flutie and redshirt freshman Clyde Lee should also see substantial playing time. Gunnell is a veteran receiver, who had nearly 1,000 yards receiving in 2007, doing his part to fuel the high-powered Matt Ryan-led passing game that year. Jarvis and Megwa also saw substantial time in 2007, and all three receivers put up much better numbers that season than in 2008. This is a veteran group with a productive #1 receiver; if BC's quarterback -- whoever that may be -- can step up, this offense might be a pleasant surprise for Boston College fans.


Jeshua Anderson (#37).
Junior, Returning Starter
2008 stats: 33 receptions, 305 yards, 2 TDs.
Kevin Norrell. Sophomore. New Starter;
2008 stats: 11 receptions, 124 yards, 0 TDs.
Jared Karstetter. Sophomore.
2008 stats: 6 receptions, 90 yards, 0 TDs.

Junior Jeshua Anderson is fast. As a freshman and sophomore, he won back-to-back NCAA 400 meter hurdle championships, and he averaged a whopping 31 yards per catch as a freshman. After deciding to put a pro track career on hold for at least one more year, Anderson is back with the Cougar football team. Of course, "track guys" often fall short of realizing the hopes of fans and recruiting analysts, but anyone with Anderson's speed remains a constant big-play threat. Fortunately, Washington State is breaking in a new starter at quarterback, and I assume their offensive line is not strong -- if it were, they likely would have won more than two games last season. Finally, while Anderson returns, the Cougars must replace last year's #1 receiver and Washington State's career receiving yards leader Brandon Gibson (673 yards, 2 touchdowns in 2008). Jared Karstetter, who started three games as a true freshman, junior Jeffrey Solomon, and senior Michael Willis will likely round out the Washington State receiving group.


Mario Washington. (85), Junior, New Starter
2008 stats: 3 receptions, 56 yards, 0 TDs.
Mike Schupp. (80), Junior, New Starter.
2008 stats: 1 reception, 14 yards, 0 TDs.

Obviously, Navy's is not a passing offense. However, even by Navy receiving standards, this could be a down year for the Midshipmen passing game. They have a new quarterback (Ricky Dobbs, replacing Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada), and they must replace last year's starters Tyree Barnes and Curtis Sharp. Navy receivers must be able to block -- Tyree's 400 yards receiving last year were the most by a Navy receiver in three years. If the new receivers struggle in that responsibility, the damage to Navy's rushing attack will be much more devastating than any pass-catching dropoff.


Jonathan Baldwin. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 18 receptions, 404 yards, 3 TDs.
Oderick Turner. (#24) Senior. Returning Starter
2008 stats: 21 receptions, 298 yards, 1 TD.
Cedric McGee. Senior.
2008 stats: 32 receptions, 201 yards, 0 TDs.

Every recruiting nerd remembers a few "guys who got away" from each class. Though ND is well-stocked at receiver, Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin remains one of those players I wish ND had. At 6'5, 220 pounds, with blazing speed, he is a potential nightmare anywhere on the field. Last season he averaged 22.4 yards per catch, which is even more impressive considering his potential as a red-zone threat. With two experienced quarterbacks at the Panther helm (Bill Stull and Pat Bostick), this could be the year the Pitt passing attack takes off. In fact, Baldwin may not even be the full-time split end. Redshirt senior Oderick Turner also typically plays the position, and the two may either share time or appear in three-receiver formations. Pitt does lose Derek Kinder, and senior T.J. Porter was kicked off the squad following a DUI arrest in the winterlast year's leading receiver, but part-time starter Cedric McGee is back. Rounding out the group are talented true freshman Todd Thomas, senior split end Greg Cross, sophomore Aaron Smith, and redshirt freshmen Cameron Saddler and Andre Wright.


Brad Kanuch. Senior, Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 7 receptions, 69 yards.
Kashif Moore. Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 27 receptions, 273 yards, 1 TD.
Isiah Moore. Sophomore.

2008 stats: DNP

After a strong campaign in 2007 (433 yards and a touchdown) and an injury-halted 2008 season, senior Brad Kanuch broke his collarbone in the spring, but was expected to be ready to go for summer workouts and the fall. UConn must replace Ellis Gaulden, who had 214 receiving yards, but most of the receiver nucleus is back. Sophomore Michael Smith will likely back up Kashif Moore. Senior Marcus Easley and redshirt Freshmen Gerrard Sheppard and Brian Parker should also rotate through. A pair of newcomers, Dwayne Difton and Malik Generett, could also enter the mix. The UConn offense struggled to put up points in several games last season, losing 12-10 to Rutgers, winning just 12-9 against Temple, and also scoring fewer than 14 points against North Carolina, Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida, and Pitt. Neither the new quarterback nor an unheralded group of receivers leads me to believe this offense will be particularly dangerous in 2009.


Ryan Whalen. Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 41 receptions, 508 yards, 1 TD.
Doug Baldwin. Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 23 receptions, 332 yards, 4 TDs.
Chris Owusu. Sophomore.
2008 stats: 5 receptions, 16 yards, 0 TDs.

Coach Jim Harbaugh's power running game may temper Stanford's receiving numbers, but Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin are both formidable receivers. Stanford is also high on Chris Owusu, who was injured at the start of the year but worked his way into the lineup anyway. Warren Reuland, a 6'5" Sophomore and the brother of Tight End and ND transfer Konrad Reuland, may back up Whalen. Highly touted ND target Jamal Patterson could press for playing time, as might fellow recruit Jemari Roberts. If this unit and quarterback Andrew Luck can complement the potent rushing attack, fortunes could begin to turn in Palo Alto. And that would be great -- their coach is such a nice guy.

2009 Opponent Wide Receiver Analysis and Rankings

Notre Dame, which as recently as 2004 fielded a receiving group led by Matt Shelton, now has better receivers than any of its competitors. Given that one of those opponents is USC, ND may have the best group in the country. None of the teams featured here have a one-two punch as potent as Floyd and Tate, and save for USC and Michigan, none of these teams would find a Duval Kamara fighting like hell to crack the top three. This does not mean none of ND's opponents will provide stout tests for the Irish secondary. Damian Williams, Blair White, Greg Mathews, Rich Gunnell, and Jonathan Baldwin, among others, are elite players capable of hurting an opponent.

Notre Dame will face a variety of offenses with widely differing emphases on the vertical passing game. They will see big receivers (Baldwin), small (Odoms), and medium (Damian Williams). They'll see players I've heard of since they were in high school (Ronald Johnson) and people I'd never heard of before starting this preview (everyone who plays for UConn, Washington State, Navy, and Nevada). Most ND fans seem to share an expectation that the secondary will be the strength of the defense, and potentially the best unit on the team. Outside of a select few individual receivers, this is one season where I am not particularly concerned about ND's ability to match up in the passing game.

Here is my best shot at the wide receiver team rankings among ND opponents:

1. USC: Not as strong as the Jarrett-Smith days, but Williams is one dangerous receiver.
2. Michigan State: Proven veteran leadership is rare on this schedule, and White has it.
3. Pittsburgh: A very talented group. I may be under-rating them here.
4. Michigan: A lot depends on the non-Mathews receivers.
5. Boston College: Familiar BC story: experienced, solid, veteran group.
6. Washington: Washington and Nevada could be a one-man show, but that man is good.
7. Nevada: They have big shoes to fill, which could hurt the offense this season.
8. Stanford: Whalen and Baldwin could be formidable.
9. Purdue: I apologize, but I've already forgotten what I wrote about them.
10. Washington State: Watch out for the big play; otherwise, not particularly fearsome.
11. UConn: A solid but not spectacular group could make Zach Frazer's year a long one.
12. Navy: Like at running back, a new set of starters must quickly come up to speed for Navy.